TORONTO — Joe Kelly said the incident involving his pitching shoulder in his previous start against Seattle was always in the back of his mind, but it didn’t prevent him from making Wednesday night’s start, or going six innings and allowing two runs in an outing that was stopped at 86 pitches for precautionary reasons.
Kelly said tests were done after he was taken out of his previous start when he felt something in his shoulder he had never felt. It was a fleeting twinge, but it caught his attention.
Kelly said the four days leading up to the start were filled with caution, from testing the shoulder to monitoring whether the pain resurfaced.
Kelly acknowledged he had some inflammation, which he called minor. Both players acquired in the John Lackey deal from St. Louis — outfielder Allen Craig and Kelly, have had injury issues respectively. But both played Wednesday night.
The Red Sox are usually extremely cautious with their players when it comes to medical issues, and in this case they took Kelly out with a 2-1 lead after he allowed a leadoff double to Edwin Encarnacion in the seventh.
“In light of five days ago, we were going to hold him shorter than normal,” said Sox manager John Farrell. “No concern from on health standpoint, but from volume standpoint we didn’t want to get past 85-90 [pitches]. He felt fine in his side session but more precautionary, we weren’t going to extend him tonight.”
The Jays then got to Tommy Layne, and mainly Junichi Tazawa, for four runs in the inning.
“It’s a manager’s decision,” said Kelly of the quick hook. “I have no right to say anything. I respect any manager I’ve ever played for. I should never have let that [Encarnacion] get on. It was one of the more missed fastball command pitches I’ve had. I left it up and over the middle of the plate and he got a double out of it.”
But Kelly thought he had a good outing, all things considered.
“Overall, yeah. I’d like to get rid of those [two] walks,” he said. My fastball command was good, but I lost a batter 0-2 [Encarnacion in the fourth] to a walk and I tried to pitch around him instead of going right at him. Overall, I think I had decent command of my stuff. I was throwing every pitch, fastball, cutter, curveball, two-seamer, and me and [David Ross] had a good game plan against a tough lineup.”
As for the shoulder, “It’s always in the back of your mind when something happens,” Kelly said. You really don’t want to focus on that, especially myself. I’m a big-time focus guy. When I get onto the mound I lock in as much as I can. [The shoulder] wasn’t bothering me at all. It was good.”
Kelly also said that leading up to start, “I didn’t feel it. It’s something I didn’t want to think about leading up to my start. We did all the stuff to get the shoulder ready to go. It was definitely good enough to pitch tonight.”
Kelly credited his defense with playing well behind him.
“There were some top-10 plays out there tonight. The one Brock [Holt] made with the bare hand, can’t give that guy enough credit. He plays all over the field and he’s pretty fun to watch. The guy hasn’t made that many starts. [Will] Middlebrooks is one of the best defensive third basemen I’ve seen, and he has a good arm. He can do that [scooping a hard-hit ball by Dioner Navarro in the fourth and starting a 5-4-3 double play] to anyone.”
Ross, who caught Kelly in a game for the first time, said it didn’t appear that Kelly was favoring his shoulder or was preoccupied with it.
“He was throwing 95 and got up to 98. He showed no signs he was thinking about anything. Everything was free and easy,” Ross said.
Kelly didn’t feel his velocity was quite there, but “the movement was better than usual. When your ball is doing what you want it to do, that’s what you’re looking for. Against lefties I wanted to get the ball in and righties away.”
Should the Red Sox have shut Kelly down completely?
“We kept our eye on it the whole time from playing catch to the bullpens,” Kelly said. “I said there was nothing wrong. There wasn’t any problems that cropped up with the stuff that we did, and I went out and was able to pitch today.
“I guess there was inflammation, but it was very, very minor. It was something I felt on a pitch my last start that caught my attention. They took me out and it was the smart thing to do.”
When asked if he knew he was on a limited pitch count, Kelly said, “I kind of had a feeling. [Pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] came to me after six and he asked, ‘You got one more?’ I said yes. They watched me closely all week. It’s something I had in back of my mind, and understanding where we are and the season, we handled it the right way.”
Certainly Kelly, who has made five starts with the Red Sox, three of them quality, has shown that he could be a mainstay in the rotation.
Kelly and the staff felt they did a good job protecting him as much as possible without shutting him down. It appears the shoulder will be monitored closely going forward. The Red Sox don’t want minor inflammation turning into tendinitis or worse.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.